Since first being contested in 1871, the FA Cup has come to be considered the most historic association football competition in the world. Each year, more than 750 clubs featuring all levels of English football enter what has come to be known as the “Cup of Dreams.” Each club, large and small, hopes to advance round by round to May’s Final at Wembley Stadium, considered one of the top global events in football.
Small-town clubs, the “minnows,” yearly take the field in hopes of becoming a “giant killer,” a club that makes its name by taking down one of the EPL powers. While difficult to make it to the final, each season sees some of the mighty fall at the hands (or feet) of more humble challengers. Last season’s final, however, saw two storied sides go at it as Chelsea defeated Liverpool for their fourth FA Cup title in the past six years.
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ESPN coverage - times AEST:
Saturday, May 11:
Talking Tactics 9-10pm
Talk of the Terrace (Live) 10-11:30pm
FA Cup Final – Build Up (Live) 11:30-2:15am
FA Cup Final (Live) 2:15am
Manchester City vs. Wigan
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or more accurately, the beholder of the FA Cup. For the winner, the spoils of lofting one of England’s most prestigious cups and a saving grace in a disappointing season. For the loser, affirmation that this season has been one to forget.
Of course the ramifications of losing this final are far greater for Manchester City than for Wigan. Survival and finishing runners-up in the FA Cup – which would guarantee a spot in the Europa League – could leave Roberto Martinez feeling quite chuffed about his side’s fortunes this season. Failure to take a prime chance for more glory and finishing second in the league would leave Roberto Mancini on the edge of his seat.
However, a win for City would set them up to reclaim their Premier League title next season. This season’s cup has been dominated by the Manchester side, with defence the key. They have conceded one goal on route to the final and never looked in doubt of reaching the penultimate round. The league has been relinquished but a trophy would ease that pain at the Etihad.
City will head into the clash as firm favourites; on paper, on form and with the bookies. And for good reason. As evidenced by the recent Premier League meeting between these two sides, City are a more clinical outfit, regardless of how well Wigan play. In City’s 1-0 win, the Latics proved they will put up a fight at Wembley. The midfield play between Shaun Maloney, Jordi Gomez and James McCarthy unravelled City and provided a number of opportunities to striker Arouna Kone, whose pace troubled Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany.
Maloney was at his best, bursting through the middle with speed and distributing effectively to the wide channels. Controlling the 30-year-old will be at the top of Mancini’s list and he will be vital to giving Wigan a sniff of rare glory.
This one will be won in the middle of the pitch. Both sides have attackers to finish chances, but if Wigan don’t turn up ready to be stifled by one of the best attacking sides in England, they can count their losses early and fear the drop.
Yaya Toure sent a scare through the Manchester City camp when he was taken off during last week’s 0-0 draw with Swansea with muscular fatigue. The Ivorian missed the midweek win over West Brom, but confirmed on Thursday that he has fully recovered and will take to the field in the final.
Wigan’s injury woes are far greater. Defender Maynor Figueroa has been ruled out for the season and Ronnie Stam limped off with a suspected broken leg in Tuesday’s loss against Swansea. Antolin Alcaraz is also under an injury cloud and is in doubt to feature at Wembley.
Roberto Mancini and Roberto Martinez have never been shy to tinker with their formation when things are going wrong. Martinez has been known to start with a back three for Wigan, utilizing his efficient wing-backs to force teams out wide and shore up the centre of defence. But his depleted defensive stocks may force him to revert to a flat back four and potentially a clinical 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. Arouna Kone is capable of playing as a lone striker and has the pace and strength to trouble City’s backline.
That paves the way for James McCarthy, Paul Scharner and Jordi Gomez to roam around in the midfield. Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney provide significant threats on either wing, but will have little success down Pablo Zabaleta’s right side.
Mancini’s City has started with a back four more often than not this season, although the Italian is quick to push one of his defenders forward at the latter stages of games. Zabaleta is not afraid to make overlapping runs down the line and will be hard to contain if Wigan deploy wing-backs. City are not short of options up front, with David Silva and Samir Nasri efficient on their respective sides or when combining in the penalty box.
Yaya Toure is a work horse in the midfield and should line up alongside Gareth Barry to provide stability for City.
Wigan player to watch: Callum McManaman
The English winger has been a revelation for Wigan and a testament to Roberto Martinez’s focus on developing youth at the club. Although he gained notoriety for a horror tackle on Newcastle’s Massadio Haidara, McManaman has redeemed himself with a string of consistent performances on the pitch.
He has been especially important in Wigan’s FA Cup run, using his pace to turn defenders inside out. The 22-year-old is no stranger to a crucial goal and has struck at the right moment in all three competitions this season.
Manchester City player to watch: Yaya Toure
Yaya Toure has made Wembley his home in recent years. Toure scored the winning goals in City’s semi-final and final matches to help them lift the FA Cup in 2011 and he could be the difference once again.
The 29-year-old’s distribution, barnstorming runs and strength in defence is second to very few in England and he will be difficult for Wigan to contain.
Match preview provided by Mitchell Grima - ESPNFC